The playbook, a spin-off of tactics that date back in spirit to the conquistadores, has worked well until recently, when Indigenous Peoples started comparing notes. Now they’re calling those companies out, often appealing to international law, collaborating with environmentalists and other international observers, and using the Internet to warn others of a threat—and always maintaining the tried-and-true option of direct action in case words don’t work.
That’s what happened in late February when leaders of the Awajún people of the Peruvian Amazon province of Datem del Marañón publicly outed the Spanish oil company Repsol for conducting so-called “clandestine workshops” inside Awajún territory to win hearts and minds. Such hand-slapping is happening more frequently these days in Peru as Indigenous Peoples ally with environmentalists and human rights organizations to demand their rights under international law. Their profoundly informed debate over the new Law of Prior Consultation for Indigenous and Original Peoples is more evidence of that trend.
Wild West No More
In a complaint published as an alert on the website of the Amazonian indigenous alliance AIDESEP on February 18, the Awajún accused Repsol of “bad practices” and said the company was acting “behind the backs” of the indigenous authorities, gathering villagers in secret meetings without permission from the apus (chosen leaders), thereby subverting the traditional process by which the Awajún decide issues affecting the tribe. They demanded that Respol immediately cease negotiations, and sought the intervention of the government, according to their statement.
They said the government, under international law, is supposed to protect them from predatory companies against whose playbook and war chests they often stand little chance. According to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Peru is a signatory, the government is responsible to consult with and derive consent from Indigenous Peoples on whose territories it has offered contracts and concessions. It is also required to mediate disputes.
Repsol wants to tap oil wells in Lot 109, just one of the many oil concessions that now cover more than 75 percent of the Peruvian Amazon and overlap important areas set aside for nature reserves, communally held indigenous territory or as sanctuaries for voluntarily isolated tribes. More than 65 percent of communally held indigenous territories in Peru’s Amazon region are included in those concessions. A few months ago Repsol announced that it plans to sink up to $3 billion into its Peruvian oil and gas operations over the next five years, just one such investment in Peru’s energy sector boom that observers say could double the industry’s oil and gas production over that same period of time.